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Protests hit businesses’ year-end plans



KOLKATA | NEW DELHI: Travel booking cancellations and a drop in footfalls at malls and stores due to protests and violence around the amended citizenship law have made consumer-oriented companies apprehensive about business getting derailed in parts of India this Christmas-New Year season.

Restaurants and retailers, including malls, in the National Capital Region and Kolkata said footfalls have declined and business has been adversely affected over the past few days due to the protests.

Hotels and travel agents said there have been widespread cancellations. Last-minute air fares have spiked, forcing people to scrap their holiday plans. Many train services – especially those originating and culminating in the east and northeast, where illegal immigration has been a major issue – have been cancelled, further pushing up air fares.

The Travel Agents Federation of India estimates an over ?15 crore loss already in business in east and northeast regions alone. More than 70% of the year-end holiday bookings are likely to get cancelled, widening the losses, said Anil Punjabi, the federation’s chairman for the east.

Big Blow for Northeast Tourism

“The worst affected will be northeast tourism, which had seen a resurgence in the past few years. Flights are getting cancelled and holidayers are apprehensive even though they are staring at monetary losses,” said Punjabi.

Restaurants and pubs estimated their business has declined over 10% in the past seven days due to the unrest.

Speciality Restaurants managing director Anjan Chatterjee said there’s been a significant impact on the food and beverages sector.

“As it is, we are dealing with a slowdown. To top it, when there’s an environment of unrest and uncertainty, the first things that get impacted are to do with entertainment,” he said. “December is usually when people host various corporate and private parties and that’s being compromised because there is fear of going out.”

The listed chain operates 135 outlets across multiple brands such as Mainland China and Oh! Calcutta. Rahul Singh, promoter of The Beer Cafe, said his outlets in New Delhi have seen a drop in sales as people are wary of venturing out.

“In politically sensitive times, people don’t step out. The environment needs to be conducive for that, which is missing,” he said.

The agitation against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the planned National Register of Citizens has rocked Assam in the northeast, West Bengal, Bihar, parts of Uttar Pradesh and the national capital since last week. Students of several frontline higher education institutes have joined the protests.

Countries including the US, the UK and France have cautioned their citizens about travel to India in view of the protests. Normal life has been affected in several areas and the shutdown of the internet has further impacted e-commerce business.

Mahindra Group chairman Anand Mahindra tweeted on Tuesday praying “for peace, calm & non-violence” throughout the country. “No business strategy can exist independent of such an environment,” he wrote.

A MakeMyTrip spokesperson said last-minute flight bookings to leisure destinations in India have dipped by 29% year-on-year and this can be attributed to a 24% increase in air fares.

“Some of the most sought-after destinations including Goa, Udaipur and Cochin are expected to witness de-growth of about 29%, 12% and 56%, respectively,” the spokesperson said.

“The fares in the market are high because of a combination of factors that includes Jet’s grounding, constrained runway capacity in Mumbai, among others. On top of it, people are not ready spend too much on travel due to the general slowdown,” said Sanjay Narula, MD of Apex Travel and Tours.

Companies are especially worried about the impact of the agitation on business when economic growth has slowed and consumer sentiment is muted amid accelerating inflation. Several retailers and companies had advanced their year-end sales this year in an attempt to boost sales.

“When the macro-economic scenario is not rosy, the present unrest is just adding fuel to the fire. However, we hope things get sorted out quickly, considering the Christmas sale is happening across the country and people tend to buy around this time,” said Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO of the Retailers Association of India.

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